Skip to comments.Swiss Guns
Posted on 12/10/2012 11:39:16 AM PST by marktwain
So let's take a step back, and look at Switzerland's unique gun laws and culture.
"While traveling around Switzerland on Sundays, everywhere one hears gunfire, but a peaceful gunfire: this is the Swiss practicing their favorite sport, their national sport. They are doing their obligatory shooting, or practicing for the regional, Cantonal or federal shooting festivals, as their ancestors did it with the musket, the arquebus or the crossbow. Everywhere, one meets urbanites and country people, rifle to the shoulder, causing foreigners to exclaim: 'You are having a revolution!'" These words were written by General Henri Guisan, commander in chief of the Swiss Militia Army, the year before World War II began.
Having participated in Swiss shooting matches for over a decade, Stephen Halbrook can attest to the continuing validity of this statement. Throughout the country, people are free to come and go for shooting competitions, and competitors are commonly seen with firearms on trains, buses, bicycles, and on foot.
In 1939, just before Hitler launched World War II, Switzerland hosted the International Shooting Championships. Swiss president Philipp Etter told the audience, which included representatives from Nazi Germany:
There is probably no other country which, like Switzerland, gives the soldier his weapon to keep in the home.... With this rifle, he is able every hour, if the country calls, to defend his hearth, his home, his family, his birthplace.... The Swiss does not part with his rifle.
Switzerland won the service-rifle team championship. The lesson was not lost on the Nazi observers.
Halbrook details in Target Switzerland: Swiss Armed Neutrality in World War II, the Swiss militia policy of a rifle in every home deterred a Nazi invasion. A Nazi attack would have cost far more in Wehrmacht blood than did the easy conquests of the other European countries, whose governments had restricted firearm ownership before the war. Many hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of Swiss and refugees who found sanctuary there were saved because every Swiss had a rifle, and was prepared to resist.
To this day, every male, when he turns 20, is issued a full automatic military rifle and required to keep it at home. Universal service in the Militia Army is required. When a Swiss is no longer required to serve, he may keep his rifle (converted from automatic to semi-automatic) or his pistol (if he served as an officer).
American Founding Fathers such as John Adams and Patrick Henry greatly admired the Swiss militia, which helped inspire the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution the preference for a "well regulated militia" as "necessary for the security of a free state," and the guarantee of "the right of the people to keep and bear arms." Late in the 19th century, the American military sent observers to Switzerland in hopes of emulating the Swiss shooting culture.
The American Founders also admired Switzerland's decentralized system of government. Switzerland is a confederation in which the federal government has strictly defined and limited powers, and the cantons, even more so than American states, have the main powers to legislate. The citizens often exercise direct democracy, in the form of the initiative and the referendum. The late political scientist Gianfranco Miglio said the Swiss enjoyed the "last, real federalism in the world," as opposed to the "false and/or deteriorated" federalism of Germany or America.
For centuries, the Swiss cantons had no restrictions on keeping and bearing arms, though every male was required to provide himself with arms for militia service. By the latter part of the 20th century, some cantons required licenses to carry pistols, imposed fees for the acquisition of certain firearms (which could be evaded by buying them in other cantons), and imposed other restrictions albeit never interfering with the ever-present shooting matches.
In other cantons usually those with the lowest crime rates one did not need a police permit for carrying a pistol or for buying a semiautomatic, lookalike Kalashnikov rifle. A permit was necessary only for a non-militia machine gun. Silencers or noise suppressors were unrestricted. Indeed, the Swiss federal government sold to civilian collectors all manner of military surplus, including antiaircraft guns, cannon, and machine guns.
In 1996, the Swiss people voted to allow the federal government to legislate concerning firearms, and to prohibit the cantons from regulating firearms. Some who favored more restrictions (as in other European countries) saw this as a way to pass gun-control laws at the federal level; those who objected to restrictions in some cantons saw it as a way to preempt cantonal regulation, such as the former requirement in Geneva of a permit for an air gun.
The result is a federal firearms law that imposes certain restrictions, but leaves virtually untouched the ability of citizens to possess Swiss military firearms, and to participate in competitions all over the country.
The Federal Weapons Law of 1998 regulates import, export, manufacture, trade, and certain types of possession of firearms. The right of buying, possessing, and carrying arms is guaranteed with certain restrictions. It does not apply to the police or to the Militia Army of which most adult males are members.
The law forbids fully automatic arms and certain semiautomatics "derived" therefrom; but Swiss military assault rifles are excluded from this prohibition. (The exclusion makes the prohibition nearly meaningless.) Further, collectors may obtain special permits for the "banned" arms, such as submachine guns and machine guns.
In purchasing a firearm from a licensed dealer, a permit is required for handguns and some long guns, but not for single-shot rifles, multi-barrel rifles, Swiss bolt-action military rifles, target rifles, or hunting rifles. Permits must be granted provided the applicant is at least 18 years old and has no disqualifying criminal record. Authorities may not keep any registry of firearms owners. Private persons may freely buy and sell firearms without restriction, provided that they retain a written agreement, and that the seller believes the purchaser is not criminally disqualified.
A permit was already required for manufacturing and dealing in firearms, but now there are more regulations still. Storage regulations exist for both shops and individuals. During the Cold War, the government required every house to include a bomb shelter, which today often provide safe storage for large collections of firearms (and double as wine cellars).
Criminal penalties depend on intent. Willfully committing an offense may be punishable by incarceration for up to five years, but failure to comply through neglect, or without intent, may result in a fine or no punishment at all.
Before 1998, about half the cantons (like 33 American states) allowed all law-abiding citizens to carry handguns for protection in public; in some cases, an easily obtainable permit was needed. The new federal law makes permits necessary everywhere, and, so far, permits have been issued restrictively. (Still, one can freely carry a handgun or rifle to a shooting range, and there is one in every village, nook, and cranny.)
Zug, site of the September murders, had always been a difficult place to obtain a handgun carry permit (Waffentragschein). Even if permits had been issued readily, it might not have made a difference on September 27, since, as one of our Swiss friends put it: "the mental climate of Zug was entirely peaceful. While I would before the outrage not at all have been surprised to learn that in the Uri or Ticino or the Grisons assembly there were members carrying arms, in Zug I would have been surprised indeed. This is exactly what the mad felon exploited, a state of mind. There are more parallels between the hideous September crimes than first meet the eyes!"
Any proposed new restrictions on peaceable firearm possession and use will be opposed by the Militia Army; by shooting organizations, such as the Swiss Shooting Federation; and by the gun-rights group ProTell, named after William Tell, who shot an apple off his son's head. Their allies are the political parties that support free trade, federalism, limited government, non-interventionism, and remaining independent from international organizations such as the European Union or United Nations.
Supporters of firearm restrictions tend to be socialists and Leftists including those who wish to abolish the Militia Army, to strengthen the central government to be more like Germany, and to join the European Union. Ironically, the Swiss Socialist Party went through a similar period at the beginning of Hitler's rise. But the Swiss socialists soon recognized the danger, and in 1942 when Switzerland was completely surrounded by Axis dictatorships the Socialist Party resolved that "the Swiss should never disarm, even in peacetime."
Since September 27, the European media have been complaining about this "armed country" where every citizen is a "potential sniper." But the fact is, Switzerland is just as safe as countries where firearms are far more restricted. In 1994, the homicide rate in Switzerland was 1.32 per 100,000 in the population. Of those, 0.58 (44 percent) involved firearms. Compare this to Italy 2.25 (1.66 firearms), France 1.12 (0.44), and Germany 1.17 (0.22).
The Swiss household gun-ownership rate is 27 percent excluding militia weapons. Contrast this with the household gun-ownership rates (at least for households willing to divulge gun ownership to a government-affiliated telephone pollster) of 16 percent for Italians, 23 percent for French, and 9 percent for Germans.
The far left has been demanding massive new gun control, and prohibition on keeping militia rifles in the home. The Defence Minister has ruled out such changes, however. The Justice Department will push for an amendment to the federal gun law which would abolish private firearms transfers; all private transfers would require police approval.
While most of Switzerland's less-armed neighbors are as peaceful as Switzerland, danger emanates from the Balkans the former Yugoslavia and Albania not to mention from the chaos that's followed the breakup of the Soviet Union. Political terrorists and organized criminals are swamping Europe. Indeed, the same terrorist organizations that murdered Americans on September 11 operate in all European countries, including Switzerland. The new Swiss federal-weapons law is in part a reaction to this turmoil. But given that terrorists may buy black market AK-47s from the former Red Army in all European countries, the Swiss federal law impinges more on law-abiding Swiss than it does on foreign miscreants.
One wonders whether more gun laws will do as much good for Switzerland as would imprisoning people who threaten bus drivers with a gun, or improving supervision of released felony sexual predators against children.
The Germans did not invade Switzerland because they needed the banking angle, governmentally and privately.
Unique Swiss gun laws indeed.
Never mind the massive violence problems that Switzerland has with immigrant criminals from (mostly) Turkey, the Balkans and (more recently) northern Africa. And all those guns in private hands have so far proven to be useless in the face of the reality of political correctness - which prevents the Swiss people from actually doing something about it. Now there is a lesson to be learned...
I spent 10 days in Switzerland and southern Germany a couple of weeks ago. In Zurich there was a small but well inventoried gun shop about a block from my hotel. They had everything from swiss made super heavy 22lr bolt action competition target rifles to every type of “assault” rifle and pistol. I felt a breath of freedom just going into the shop.
It looks like creeping regulation to me. They should have never allowed their federal government to get involved.
True, once anything becomes “federal” there is no competition between the cantons (states) and the only way to escape the rules is to totally leave the country.
Thirty percent of their population is either immigrants, or children of immigrants.
Don't know what sort of agenda you are pushing, but please do it with facts.
my point is we have a problem with urban gun crime... take out urban gun crime and we have as low a gun crime rate as anywhere in europe with several orders of magnitude more guns
Are you sure? Can you imagine a poster like the one below in American politics? And did you know that they recently approved a law at the federal level for the automatic expulsion of any foreigner who commits any but the most minor crimes?
It also is nearly evenly split between Catholics and Protestants and they had a civil war in the 1800s over this when the Protestant cantons invaded the Catholic ones
The German speakers also are not a monolithic bloc but see their individual dialects as separate
4.5% of residents are Moslems
Sorry, that's wrong
1653: The Swiss Peasant's war: Lucerne, Berna, Basel etc. who were agricultural revolted against the urban cantons of Zurich etc. Bern and Lucerne were beseiged
1798: Switzerland was conquered by the French and converted into the "Helvetic Republic" which was really a French proxy. And it remained as such until 1815 and the Congress of Vienna
Then in 1847 there was the Swiss Civil war -- the Sonderbundskreig which started after seven Catholic cantons formed the Sonderbund ("separate alliance") in 1845 to protect their interests against a centralization of power. The Catholic cantons wanted a federal state, the Calvinist counties wanted a strong central government and started to shut down monasteries etc.
THIS, 1847 is what made Switzerland that island of neutrality. Earlier it was a consquence of location, but post this, it was national imperative.
Yes, they changed a formula that had worked well for a hundred and fifty years.
Yes, it is my apologies...I was checking out Switzerland as a possible re-location place for my wife and I. One of the websites I went to made that claim. They are rated more free than we are now...and they do have a substantial Christian population...
“Thirty percent of their population is either immigrants, or children of immigrants.”
That does not mean that they are not homogenuous...so, what is your point?
they have a lot of freedoms, but with that, there is responsibility -- the communities take an interest in ensuring that their members care for each other -- like the joke that you can't flush the loo between 10pm and 6 am.
Also, if you are an immigrant to one of the smaller cantons, you need to get the entire canton to vote to say they are ok with you joining. And this is by a show of hands, not a secret ballot.
So, true libertarian
they all are homogenuous in the sense that they have a strong sense of community and individuality with care for others -- what I mean for that is that they work on their own, but think about others :)
Geeez....do a little research fer crissakes.
The EU is pissed at them for recently reacting to their problems by announcing restrictions on immigration from certain groups (Amish,Mennonite, etc).
The late Colonel Cooper did indeed popularize the term, if not coin it. But I sent him a letter correcting him: the unnatural fear of weapons is indeed hoplo-phobia, but it is hatred of guns and those who have skill-at-arms that is actually at play here, so the correct term should be hoplomisophia. Col. Cooper passed away before noting the point in print.